Graduating in Pandemic Time in Burke and Springfield

Area high schools’ graduates look forward to graduation ceremonies, all-night parties

After another school year impacted by COVID-19, John Lewis High School, West Springfield High School and Lake Braddock Secondary School are finding creative ways to celebrate their graduates, from dances to All-Night Grad Parties and graduation ceremonies.

All three schools are having in-person graduations. While Lake Braddock and West Springfield will be celebrating at Jiffy Lube Live, John Lewis High School will be hosting their ceremony in their school’s stadium.

“It will look like none other graduation we’ve ever had on our campus,” said Kim Harrison, the assistant principal and 12th grade administrator at John Lewis High School. “It’s being held outside in our stadium, and it is socially distanced, students sitting on the turf. It’s really about students—we’re not doing a bunch of guest speakers, we’re hearing from people who literally have gotten these young people to this point.”

EACH SCHOOL will be taking a more traditional approach to graduation, similar to the ceremonies of pre-COVID times.

“We are keeping as many of the traditional elements that we’ve had in the past,” said Dr. Daniel Smith, the principal of Lake Braddock Secondary School. “Last year’s [graduation] was different in that we weren’t able to have a graduation ceremony with all of our graduates in one place. We really wanted to make sure we could have all of our seniors come together and graduate at once. Finding a Jiffy Lube that can accommodate us outdoors has been fantastic.”

Although the ceremonies are returning to normal, Harrison will miss the fanfare of last year’s graduation at John Lewis.

“To me, last year’s was a lot more of a celebration,” she said. “[Students] were given the opportunity to ride around the school and make a final lap because school was abruptly closed. We had staff, we had parents, just cheering kids on. It was so much fun out in the parking lot; it was ridiculous because I was the hypewoman. As [students]… came back up to the front of the building, the assistant principal escorted them out of their car. Wearing their cap and gown, they picked up their diploma cover, their counselor called their name and they went across the stage. You could scream and you heard horns blowing—it was a true celebration. Kids decorated their cars, and we got the chance to really go out with a bang.”

As the COVID conditions and guidelines evolve, the schools’ plans will be evolving with them.

“FCPS is working with [updated state guidelines] to see what implications that might have for us, if any,” said Smith. Lake Braddock has not finalized how many guests each student is allowed to bring.

Each school will also be celebrating their seniors with additional events, like dances and All-Night Grad Parties.

West Springfield and John Lewis will be holding their All-Night Grad Parties at the St. James, a large sports and wellness center.

“It’s a massive facility, it’s over 400,000 square feet, so it is definitely a different experience for everybody,” said Juliet Neal, the co-chair of the All-Night Grad Party committee for West Springfield. “In the past, we had them at the Lee District Rec Center.”

However, until recently, the John Lewis High School PTSA was unsure if they would be hosting an All-Night Grad Party.

“It’s all just come together in the last few weeks,” said Liz McGhan, the PTSA president for John Lewis. “For months leading up, I did not think we were going to be able to have an All-Night Grad Party. We hadn’t really done any fundraising over the year… it was all up in the air. But we had a couple of SGA students who really wanted to have an All-Night Grad Party at the St. James, and I thought there was no way we’d be able to afford that. But they work there, these two girls, and they started talking with [the St. James], and one of their moms got in and negotiated. St. James has very graciously brought the price very reasonable for us.”

Neal, who is also a parent of two graduating seniors from West Springfield, is looking forward to the in-person celebrations.

“I’m most excited for the kids to be able to be together after a long year and a half of just really not being able to see each other,” she said. “I’m really excited for them to be able to go to the All-Night Grad Party and… see them be able to celebrate a lot that they’ve gone through this past year and a half.”

STUDENTS are also excited for these events.

“I think I’m most excited for graduation day because it’ll mark the end of my high school life and the start of my adult life,” said Brandon Tran, a Springfield resident graduating from West Springfield High School. “I am also excited for the All-Night Grad Party later that day, which would hopefully be a very fun event and a good chance to have fun with my classmates for the very last time.”

Abigail Bangs, a Springfield resident graduating from John Lewis High School, is looking forward to graduating as well.

“Honestly I’m most excited for graduation and All-Night Grad. Prom has just passed and it was fun, but I’m more so excited for the ‘graduation’ portion of senior year,” she said. “Moving into a new chapter in life through graduation and All-Night Grad feels like closure, to me at least.”

Despite the hardships these schools have faced, many are eager to see what the future has to hold for these graduates.

“When I look at these young people, I feel a sense of pride, a sense of security because I know if they’re going into the future, and the world is in their hands, we’re in good hands,” said Harrison. “They’re not victims of the pandemic, they are victors in spite of the pandemic.”

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